Monday, March 3, 2014

The Newest Popularity Contest?

When I got involved in multisport 8 years ago, the thing that made me fall in love with the sport was the people and spirit behind the competition. My first triathlon, a sprint, brought me to absolute tears on the 5k run because I hurt and I knew I was going so slow, and it was so much harder than I thought it was going to be. After the turnaround at the half way point, I saw all of these people that were behind me in the race. And yet, as soon as they saw the tears in my eyes, so many yelled to cheer me on and encourage me to finish. People that I was beating! I couldn't believe it. Since then, I remember that day and tell that story because it represents what I believe is the true spirit of triathlon.

I, like many newbies, was often overwhelmed at all the choices involved with getting started in triathlon. Bikes, accessories, training spots, coaches, training theories, clubs, bike shops... the list can go on and on. And sometimes, unfortunately, your choices will determine your place in the triathlon community of your town. It's like rooting for sports teams from opposites sides of the tracks. What races we choose to do, what uniform we decide to wear, and the people we choose to ride with all of a sudden place these dividers in the community. Even on race day, it becomes us vs. them. Now, I am all for some friendly competition. It is in fact part of the reason we do this. However, let's be serious, 99.9% of us are not pros, and probably never going to be. We do this for fun, to better ourselves, to teach our children about living a healthy lifestyle, and to push ourselves to be the best that we can be.

I am saddened lately by all the things I have been seeing that do nothing to contribute to the spirit of the sport, but instead create cliques that I haven't seen since high school. A new event in Atlanta has encouraged this child-like behavior. The new Gear and Glimmer event which is "Part cocktail party; part multisport awards & fashion show" is one more opportunity for a popularity contest. I will give credit that the $45 ticket for entry partially goes to charity. However, if that is the point, there are much better ways to raise a lot more money. The event is supposed to take the place of the SEE-ME (Southeast Endurance and Multisport Expo) which brought together various training clubs, stores, event management companies, etc. Pretty much anyone that wanted to set up a tent, could. It was a great place for newbies and anyone else to get info on upcoming races, new products, and converse with like-minded people, for about $5. Now, we have a new socialite event that pins groups against groups, athletes against athletes. The way to win the awards that they are offering? By how many "likes" you get.

I try to stay pretty apolitical so that I can remain neutral in this sport that I just like to enjoy participating in. But I have to speak my mind on this one as I feel we are going down a very slippery slope. While I congratulate all those nominated for awards, I'm sure there are plenty of others that worthy of awards that are not listed here. And sadly, there's not even any kind of sportsmanship award to honor the most important factor of all this. The one who's out there cheering til the very last finisher; the one that gives his bike to another that's broken down; and all the other stories of inspiring individuals. So, until this model for recognition is changed, I will keep my $45, and continue to support anyone that deserves it, on course and off. I hope at least some of you will join me in attempting to redirect the course of this triathlon community back to that thing I found so unique, intriguing, and magical when I started.


  1. WELL SAID! I applaud you for writing this and agree WHOLE-HEARTEDLY with you! Thank you for this post!

  2. Thanks very much for this blog. As the event producer, I thought I'd share my comments on several things you mentioned. I disagree that this is a new socialite event that is the undercurrent for pitting group against group; athlete against athlete. SEE-ME was a very successful event that I also produced for 8 years however it was in decline for the past two years. Not sure if you have done event planning but there is tons of work that goes on behind the scenes to make this successful.

    1. Awards: The awards component of Gear and Glimmer was not designed to pit anyone or organization against one another. Rather, it is designed to allow our athletes to acknowledge the "best" in various categories. Much like the popular "People's Choice Awards" or other similar awards show, Gear and Glimmer was designed to let the everyday athletes say who's worthy of recognition. Like any first year event, there will always be room for improvement and if the execution of the awards component of the event is not 100% flawless, then I will certainly take the lead in making improvements for next year.

    2. Social Media: We live in a world of social media and that is a double-edged sword. As a way to control expenses, many non-profit organizations use social media as a way to inexpensively promote their programs and services. We are no different. That's the positive-side of social media. However, social media can be used to engage groups or cliques, as you say, to band together for specific causes or initiatives. Rather than encourage this behavior, I'd instead try to focus on some assumption that individuals will make their own decisions.

    (part 1 of 3)

  3. 3. Recognizing Sportsmanship: There is an award that has been presented for the past 8 years at SEE-ME that we've carried over into the Gear and Glimmer event. The "Person of Courage" award is an annual award that recognizes what I believe you are indicating. At its core, the POC award is designed to recognize the non-podium finisher, noncompetitive, person who is very much behind the scenes. If you spend some time looking at the event website, and go down the list of past individuals, I hope you'll draw the conclusion of what I'm refereeing to here. Past recipients include disabled individuals who race despite limited functionality, working individuals who've volunteered in the community, and even a guy who put aside his triathlon training for several months to give a kidney to a family member. You're completely off base to say we aren't recognizing someone who's "given his bike to another who's broken down" especially if you consider the past recipients.

    Background on the award is here:

    This year's recipient announcement:

    (part 2 of 3)

  4. (part 3 of 3)

    4. Invitation: I'd love to extend two invitations to you. First, please come to the event. I don't want your $45 but I want you to see what the event is all about, all the work that many have put on behind the scenes, and enjoy the fellowship that will be filled in the room by competitors and friends alike. Second, and most importantly, I want you to spend some time with The Getting2Tri Foundation at one of our programs this year. Since it's inception, G2T has made a positive impact on individuals with physical disabilities. Some of the individuals we serve do go on to compete at the national and international levels of sports competition. Many do not, but they gain a confidence through sports that is unparalleled. A bilateral, below knee amputee who cannot swim 25 meters in a pool on day one, but can do multiple laps without stopping by day 3, will most likely learn activities that keep him moving on a daily and weekly basis. And it's that same individual who's been down because of some traumatic injury that's made his new "normal" challenging, now attacks life with new confidence.

    Beyond our disabled participants, arguably we've had a stronger impact on the able-bodied community of individuals who get involved for 1 hour, 1 day or 3 days at one of our programs. I would love for you to experience that feeling. While $45 may seem like a lot, it pales in comparison to what many of our disabled participants have to deal with on a daily basis that you can't put a price tag to it. Unfortunately, the impact that organizations create does not come without a price and that's why we need to host events like Gear and Glimmer in order to make our programs happen. It would be great if all the facilities, all the adaptive sporting equipment, and all the follow up training was for free. But that's simply not the case. So I hope you will take me up on my invitation to volunteer. Lastly, the organization in unique because it is 100% volunteer based. No one gets a dime from any of the fund-raising efforts we do. Every contribution is put towards programs and obligations that attempt to make everyday life for some individuals with disabilities a little more bearable.

    Thanks for letting me offer some explanation. Everyone is entitled to an opinion and I hope you'll respect my comments in response.

    Yours in Sport.....

    Mike Lenhart
    Founder and President
    The Getting2Tri Foundation

  5. Mike, I truly appreciate your detailed response to my post. I will certainly make a point to acknowledge both the Person of Courage Award as well as the great charity that this event is benefiting, and I should have mentioned them in the original post. I actually do have event planning experience as well as lots of experience volunteering for charities, so perhaps we can talk sometime after the event and discuss possible improvements.

    I would be more than happy to take you up on both your invitations. I think it is only fair that I see the event first hand to have a full understanding and view from all sides. I'd be very interesting in volunteering with your organization as well. Perhaps we can also discuss some times this would be possible when we have an opportunity to chat after Saturday. I will send you a private email with my contact info.

    I appreciate your input.